Carnival Corporation and its subsidiary Princess Cruises agreed to pay a $20 million federal penalty for ongoing criminal activity related to its illegal dumping of oil and waste, including plastics, into the ocean and staging a cover-up of the environmental crimes.
The June 3 settlement stems from a record $40 million agreement Carnival reached with federal prosecutors in 2016 after the company admitted to illegally dumping waste from its Caribbean Princess ship into the water instead of properly disposing of it at port. Company officials also directed subordinates to lie about the violations after a whistleblower exposed them to federal authorities.
In addition to the largest criminal penalty ever imposed for intentional vessel pollution, Carnival also agreed to a five-year probation term that subjected more than 100 ships operating under its nine cruise brands to additional regulatory oversight.
But despite the felony charges and probation, Carnival continued to pollute the waters wherever its ships operated. In the Bahamas, for instance, the Carnival Elation cruise ship dumped drinking straws and other plastic waste, a major threat to marine life, overboard.
Carnival also falsified records regarding its disposal of waste and interfered with the government’s inspections of its ships by sending covert teams to hide any evidence of the ongoing environmental violations.
Federal prosecutors alleged that the $35 billion cruise operator dumped its waste into the sea to save money.
“A corporation is responsible to its shareholders and board of directors to be profitable, but not by breaking the law and destroying the very environment in which it navigates for profit,” Ariana Fajardo Orshan, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida, said in a statement.
As the world’s largest cruise ship company, Carnival operates ships under several brands including Holland America, Seabourn, Cunard, P&O, and of course Princess. Unfortunately, instead of caring for the marine environment that sustains it, the company has a long and troubled history of egregious violations that harm the ocean and imperil sea life.
Federal prosecutors argued that the illegal dumping from Carnival’s Elation cruise ship told of much broader and widespread problems of plastic dumping involving many ships over many years, “despite full knowledge that such discharges are illegal and extremely harmful to the environment and marine life,” according to the New York Times.
Like other felony marine polluters, the Caribbean Princess and fellow Carnival-owned ships took measures to hide their illegal dumping from authorities, including employing a device called a “magic pipe” that avoids water-cleaning mechanisms and digital devices used to monitor oil levels. Disposing of oil waste from the bilge and other sources via a magic pipe can help make the ship appear to be in compliance with maritime laws.
During hearings on the matter senior U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz “expressed frustration with Carnival’s ‘repeat offenses’ and even threatened to bar its cruise ships from docking at United States ports,” the New York Times reported. She ordered the company’s top executives to appear in person at a court hearing on Monday in Miami and suggested they could get prison terms and criminal fines if they keep committing environmental crimes.
“My goal is to have the defendant change its behavior,” Judge Seitz said.
Pollution from cruise ships and other sea-going vessels is just one of the many sources of human/industrial threats harming all the earth’s oceans. “Ship traffic and noise can cause the death of sea creatures; marine animals routinely turn up dead with plastic in their stomachs; and rising sea temperatures, stemming from climate change caused by human activity, are destroying the framework of many ocean ecosystems,” according to the New York Times. Even the greenest cruise ships release three to four times as much carbon dioxide per passenger-mile as a commercial airliner.
Last week’s court agreement requires Carnival to submit a plan to bring its cruise ships into compliance with maritime and environmental laws by this fall. Failing that, the company could be looking at fines of up to $10 million per day. The cruise operator remains on probation for its previous crimes for another three years.